Simple Thai Food’s southern turmeric soup with guinea fowl ไก่ต๊อกต้มขมิ้น

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An aromatic, comforting soup which is like gentle sunshine in a bowl. This is similar to well-loved tom yam, only you add salinity with sea salt and there’s a finger of earthy, complex turmeric for colour and fragrance.

I’ve never had this dish, never even heard of it until I was looking through Leela’s wonderful book, Simple Thai Food. The recipe comes from her friend’s mother. In my heart I am sending thanks to any and all Southern Thai mothers. You can’t help but feel better once you’ve had this soup, which I make here with bone-in guinea fowl.

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Underneath the cut, I talk about meat in detail. Just so you know. It’s not everyone’s thing.

In the recipe notes, Leela says her friend’s mother makes it with kai ban at home, those birds whose dinosaur ancestry is sometimes made unsettling plain with their lean, long frames and gimlet eye. A small free-range chicken or guinea fowl, anything with lean and gamey flesh, would make a similarly flavourful broth. Kasma Loha-Unchit makes a version with whole quail, but that’s a bit out of my price range at the moment.

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You’ll notice there are 2 ways I dished up the soup. One is how I enjoy it, the other is how Mr. Pear prefers it. The appetite wants what it wants, but let me tell you something: many Thai stews, soups, stir-fries and curries are supposed to have bone-in joints. It is not a mistake, a sign of inferior quality, nor is it laziness (come on, de-boning a chicken–if you’re competent at it–isn’t that much more time-consuming than cleaving it to bits). It is purposeful: the cook wants you to take time over their food. It’s perfectly civilised.

I know, distantly, that boiled meat will never be pretty and some people think bone-in joints are disgusting, but none of that really matters to me when I sit down to eat. In the moment, right there and then, I hunger for it. You get such flavour. I’ve never enjoyed cute little bits of meat; that’s not who I am. What’s a chore for some people–teasing flesh from bone–is a joy for me. At my table, you’re very much allowed to use your fingers. We’ll have no mimsy nibbling here.

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However, I don’t always cook just for me. I know the fact that bone-in meat is fiddly and ugly turns some diners away from my food. So there is, as always, an alternative, a third option, one I employ with my family (I am a considerate animal). I cleave the dark meat through the bone, but separate the breast meat and keep it chilled until the last minute. Once the dark meat is simmered to perfect tenderness, the breast gets poached. Each person gets their preferred  type of chicken. Everybody’s happy.

So, please understand and respect that if Thai dishes are made with bone-in joints, they’re meant to be that way. In your own kitchen, though, you must make what pleases you.

 

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SOUTHERN HOT & SOUR TURMERIC CHICKEN SOUP

Adapted from Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu (Amazon UK / US )

Serves 4 – 6 as an accompaniment to rice. This soup can be kept chilled for a few days. Lift the meat out and store in separate tupperware.

This is particularly wonderful served with some Thai-style omelette. Leela’s original recipe uses a chicken stock base for poaching skinless, boneless chicken thighs; I use bone-in pieces cut up small for the best flavour. This is also an excellent option for leftover cooked chicken. Infuse the stock with the aromatics, briefly heat through the meat, and you’re done. You can also sour this soup with some tamarind paste.

Freezing tip: If you can only buy the aromatic ingredients in packs and aren’t sure if you’ll be able to use them up within date, wrap well in foil, place them in suitable bags and freeze. Freeze lemongrass, lime leaves, and chillies whole (they defrost in minutes), but for turmeric root and galangal, it’s really best to cut them up into usable portions before freezing, so chop the turmeric into 1 inch pieces and galangal into thin slices.

Oh, and nail polish remover (or similar) helps get rid of stubborn turmeric stains on some things; it’s a particularly quick and helpful solution for the gummy residue that fresh turmeric leaves on my knife.

ingredients

~ 1 kg / 2.2 lbs small whole chicken, guinea fowl, or bone-in chicken pieces
1 teaspoon salt t
1.5 litres water

aromatics
1 fat stalk fresh lemongrass
3 inches fresh turmeric root, peeled and smashed, or 3 tsp ground turmeric
1 inch piece fresh galangal
4 fresh lime leaves

to finish
3 large spring onions, cut into 1 inch portions, green and white parts kept separate
5 fresh bird’s eye chillies, stemmed and bruised (you may wish to have more to hand, so people can spice up their individual bowls to taste)
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice, from 2 – 3 limes
More salt to taste
Handful of fresh coriander sprigs for garnish

instructions

Joint the chicken however you like. Personally, I separate all wing joints, cleave the drumsticks and thighs in half, fillet the breast meat and reserve for later, and hack the remaining carcass in half. Put the chicken pieces into a large pot and cover with 1.5 litres / 6 cups cold water. Sprinkle over 1 tsp salt, cover tightly with lid and bring to a very slow, gentle simmer. Cook for 30 – 40 minutes, until completely cooked through and tender.

Add all the aromatics (and any skinless, boneless portions of meat) to the pot and cover, allowing everything to gently cook and infuse, anything from 5 – 10 minutes. Once the boneless meat is done, or the soup is fragrant and sunny yellow, stir in the white parts of the green onions and simmer for another few seconds til slightly softened.

Turn off the heat and add the green spring onion portions, bird’s eye chillies, and lime juice. Taste. It should be sour, hot and bright, followed by a salty, herby savouriness. Add more salt and lime juice to taste.

Dish out however you wish and sprinkle with the chopped coriander. Serve immediately.

3 thoughts to “Simple Thai Food’s southern turmeric soup with guinea fowl ไก่ต๊อกต้มขมิ้น”

  1. Hi There. Kasma uses frozen whole quail that she gets from Asian markets here in Oakland. I seem to recall that they are about $8.99 for 6 or so – actually less expensive for us than an equivalent pastured or free-range equivalent. (I’m Kasma’s husband, by the way.)

    1. Hi Michael, thanks for your comment–I’ve always enjoyed your writing on Kasma’s website.

      This is very helpful–I’m based in England, but I’ve never thought about going to the Asian markets and looking into their frozen section for quail in particular. I’ll have to try this!

  2. Guinea fowl is such a wonderful protein. I don’t understand why nobody in the U.S. uses it. Including my grandparents, who raised the darned things! As always, I want your dish. Now.

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